Parasitic Plant Invades Pt. Dume Headlands

If you haven’t felt the last three months in a pandemic were like living in a real life horror film, taking a look at the Point Dume headlands will surely seal the deal. Just like in a sci-fi flick, while we were sequestered at home for weeks on end a parasitic plant has invaded the coreopsis that sweeps the nature preserve each spring in glorious yellow blossoms. Neighbors returning to newly opened trails have discovered to their dismay the coreopsis nearly gone—smothered by a plant so ugly it’s been given these descriptive names: witch’s hair, devil’s hair, strangle weed, devil’s sewing thread or hell bind. For those with a sense of humor, it looks like the headlands was attacked by Silly String.

The invasive plant that has latched onto the stunning signature coreopsis is actually called California dodder. It’s a native plant, as is its host, coreopsis. Dodder grows leafless and viney through the nourishment of its host. It thrives in coastal brush, but according to a few sources it rarely kills its host, which is necessary for its survival.

This is not the first time it’s been spotted in Point Dume. California State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap was first assigned to the Point Dume Natural Preserve 20 years ago. He saw it then, along with grey foxes that would roam the property. Sap knows the area well.

“It’s a very special place for me,” Sap said.

After noticing the invasive dodder, Sap said, “I went to my senior environmental scientist who explained, ‘It’s part of our natural environment. Some studies have shown it can help increase plant diversity where it’s found. It has incentive to keep the host alive. This is a food source for insects as well, including butterfly larvae.’”

Sap reported the dodder has been sighted in Topanga State Park as well.

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“The coreopsis already bloomed,” Sap explained. “They’re going into their hibernative state. “They look dead,” Sap continued, although he assured they are not. “You may see some green, but they’re going into their dormant state. The daisy-like flowers—they fell off already.”

When asked if California State Parks was treating the infestation, Sap said no.

“It’s a natural condition. As the coreopsis goes dormant, there’s nothing to feed on,” he said. Asked if dodder could come back next year, Sap replied, “It may. It may not. By and large the coreopsis is no worse for the wear.”  

The Malibu Times spoke with two botanists who generally agreed with Sap; however, Bob Sussman, owner of Matilija Nursery in Moorpark, did say dodder can weaken plants over time. 

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